When Dani left her hometown of Castres and moved to Paris at the age of 19, France was in the grip of 'yé ye'* fever. The young unknown went on to launch a modelling career, posing for the likes of Newton, Avedon and Sieff. Dani then turned her hand to singing, recording her first single in 1966. Chart success came two years later with Papa vient d'épouser la bonne (which sold over a million copies). Not surprisingly, Dani was soon invited to support major French stars such as Jacques Dutronc, Johnny Hallyday and Claude François on tour. After winning the "Prix Charles-Cros" music prize in 1970, Dani turned her attention to her acting career, working with Christian Vadim (La Ronde), Truffaut, Doillon and Chabrol. But it was her drugs and rock'n'roll lifestyle that grabbed media headlines, journalists presenting her as a "tortured soul." With Dani's new album about to hit record stores, RFI Musique met the French icon at her home (where she promises she'll soon have the Internet!)
RFI Musique: You've hung out with a lot of big stars in your career like Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin and then, of course, there's Etienne Daho, the man who persuaded you to start singing again – as he did a few years back with Brigitte Fontaine. Do you think you're someone who needs a Pygmalion?
Dani: Depending on one person can be dangerous, you know, because the day when that person goes… That's why Etienne and I decided to have a bit of a break from one another really. We're still good friends, though. In fact, Etienne was the first person to know about the songs I was recording. But there was no point in doing another Daho/Dani collaboration just because we had a hit with Comme un boomerang. I have to admit, though, my big dream when I first thought about doing this album was to have Etienne on board as artistic director - the story's far from over between us yet!
Besides enjoying a successful career as a singer you also made your mark as an actress. Would you say you've been better served by the music world or the cinema?
Well, I've never compared the two. What I get pleasure out of in life is meeting and working with different people. And I have to say I've never made definite plans about when to stop or make a comeback. I just take life as it comes!
On Générique, the last track on your album, you personally thank all the people involved in the making of your album. Where did that idea come from?
I see this album as an artistic 'meeting of minds,' the coming together of a lot of different people. Generally, when you want to thank people for having worked with you, all you get is this list on the back of the album printed so small you can barely read it with glasses! But the people involved in the making of this album were so important to me I wanted to pay tribute to them in a different way.
A wide variety of people were involved in the making of this album – everyone from old acquaintances such as Etienne Daho to young songwriters such as Miossec and complete unknowns like David André. But the overall feel is very homogenous. Was that chance or a deliberate move on your part?
What happened when I thought about making the album was I started ringing up friends, telling them I was looking for songs. Some of them took me seriously, some of them didn't! Anyway, everyone knows each other in the songwriting world and they get to hear what's going on. Word soon got out that I was looking for material and things just snowballed from there. David André, who nobody seemed to know, ended up sending me Trois petites larmes and Shaker and I fell in love with them on the spot. I
There's a song on your new album called Reine d'Autriche (Queen of Austria). Is this a reference to Sissi*?
Yes, not just Sissi, but also the Corniche, the Côte d'Azur, freedom… That's the song that most reminds me of being a young twenty-something. But it's not a nostalgia thing. Reine d'Autriche is like a cliché, a cute little scenario, but it's got a deeper side to it, too. The lyrics translate so well visually. When you listen to it all these images just flood into your head!
There's another song called Mon chou on which you sing "Take life as it comes/ I'd love to/ Wait patiently by/ I'd love to/ Take my courage in both hands/ I'd love to/ But do my head in with problems/ No!" The song's obviously full of irony but, just out of interest, what does your head in in real life?
Bureaucracy. That doesn't just do my head in, it drives me completely mad! And on another level I'd say upsets in my personal life, they can get to me at times. The song Mon chou is about being positive in life, about me deciding that, in spite of everything, life is wonderful, that the sun shines every morning no matter what!
Strangely enough, you seem to be more in touch with today's world than with the frantic hedonism and optimism of the 60s. Which do you feel more comfortable with – today's world or the era you launched your career in?
I think if you want to live properly in the moment you have to be in harmony with who you are and what you're living. And that requires a great deal of wisdom – which I haven't acquired yet! All I can say is, I've always tried to apply that principle of 'being in harmony' to whatever situation I found myself in, whether that be in my personal or professional life.
You're due to embark on a major tour in January 2004 (including two dates at Le Bataclan in Paris on 10 and 11 February). A major tour as a headlining act is something of a first for you. How do you feel about that?
I'm all of a quiver! I'm going to try to give my best, as I tried to give my best with everyone who worked on the album. There'll be four musicians on stage with me and we're going to try and do a simple show putting the emphasis on the songs - and playing songs we like! But it will obviously have to go beyond 'simple' at some point. There'll have to be a bit of the unexpected in there too and it has to be sincere... It'll be a whole mix of things, I guess.
Are you planning to revive your old hits for your new 30-something audience?
Frankly, I'm not one for looking in the rear-view mirror! And, who knows, maybe the audience won't just be new fans… The way I see it, there are four or five songs that have been there with me throughout my life. They're not necessarily my best known songs, but they're timeless… It doesn't matter whether those songs were written today or yesterday, if they're good they can always be revived. To begin with the songs are intended to go on record, but singing them on stage means they evolve differently – be that for better or worse!
The press has often described you as a muse and an icon. And your friend Etienne Roda-Gil once compared you to Nico, Marianne Faithfull and Betty Page. How do you feel about that?
You know, the first time I read that my eyes filled with tears because they're all women I love and that I've met in my life. I think that, even though we've obviously followed very different paths in life, we do perhaps share the same attitude and the same passion for meeting and working with new people.
*60s rock and roll
Translation : Julie Street